May 2016 - Yellowstone Again

Ralph's Blog

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Last year we spent a few days at Yellowstone, but it simply wasn't long enough. We were there in early May and a good deal of the park was still closed due to snow in the high passes. This year we got there just after Memorial Day and the entire park was open. Having learned my lesson about how much actual distance is involved on those seemingly little lines on a map, we stayed at an RV park in Gardiner, just outside the boundary of the park. No more hour drives just to get to the gate this year!

We arrived at the RV park in early afternoon. We had been driving for three days since we left Colorado, so what did we do? Instead of taking a well earned rest we hopped in the pickup and headed for the park. They have done quite a bit of work on the North Entrance and the town of Gardner, making it easier to enter the park. Just for the fun of it, we bypassed the new road and drove through the Roosevelt Arch. Oddly enough, old Teddy had nothing to do with building the arch. He just happened to be camping in Yellowstone when the arch was dedicated, so they invited him to the ceremony. Someone sensed a good publicity opportunity and it's been his arch ever since.

The arch is wide enough for two horse-drawn buggies to pass, but modern behemoths like our RV have made it a bit small. It still looks grand, however obsolete. It's dedication "For the benefit and enjoyment of the people" still gives us a standard to urge on our government.

Years ago I read a mystery set in the lodge, and last year I was disappointed to find it was still closed when we arrived. Since the web site said the park was open, I was hoping to see the lodge. Guess what? The lodge was closed. So we settled for some spectacular views along the way.

Having been thwarted in our first objective, we decided to drive the entire Grand Loop Road around the park, all 142 miles of it. Since the speed limit is 45 MPH, and only a fool would try to maintain that speed on the twisty mountain portions of the road, it's an all day drive. The scenery is incredible, it's certainly worth the time. We stopped to see the Tower Falls on our way to the 10,243 Mount Washburn and the 8,859 foot Dunraven pass, where we watched some crazy people take a selfie and drooled over the scenery.

Pausing at the Canyon Village for dinner, we drove along the shores of Yellowstone Lake, enjoying the serenity.

As we passed Old Faithful, we tried to see it go off before dark, but we were twenty minutes late and it was just too cold to wait to see it spout after the sun set.

We didn't see much of the park for the last third of the Grand Loop because it was dark by then, but it was a fun drive.


The next day we got up early (will, early for us) to visit Mammoth Springs, which was just as beautiful as it was last year.

We did get a bit of a surprise on our way out, there was a rather large snake curled up just off the boardwalk, sunning himself and ignoring all the people walking by him.

On top of Mammoth Springs there were some interesting rocks with red lichen, as well as a great view of one of the mountains.

Passing over the Golden Gate Bridge (scary from the back view) we stopped to watch another waterfall before heading to the Norris Geyser Basin.

You couldn't see the color on this cloudy day, but the Emerald Pool was bubbling away and the Steamboat Geyser was steaming happily.


Wednesday we headed to Grand Teton National Park. On the way we realized just how big Yellowstone really is - it took us a good four hours to make it from the North Gate to the South Gate, then another hour to the entrance to Grand Teton.

On our way we passed the Roaring Mountains, which we missed last year because they were cut off by road construction. Sadly, they could now be called the Whispering Mountains, since the thermal activity has decreased markedly since they were named a century ago.

At twilight they would make a suitably spooky setting for a horror flick with the steaming tendrils they emit in the cooling night air.

That four hour drive included time to stop at a couple of waterfalls we missed on the first day because we couldn't see them in the dark. Lewis Falls first and Moose Falls second.

There were no moose at Moose falls, but we did see this little critter.

Since my French is about on a par with that of Inspector Clouseau, I did not know the three mountains of the Grand Tetons were originally named the 'Three Breasts' by sex starved French explorers. Must have had some vision problems as well, but the name stuck.

The closer we got the more spectacular the view became, but once again photos can't capture the grandeur of the scenery. To illustrate, here's a picture of the Teton Glacier, the first glacier I have ever seen. That's it, circled in red. Doesn't look like much, but it's much bigger than it looks in the picture. However, it's lost 15% of its volume since 1967 and is headed for extinction. Climate change, people. It's real.

It's hard to believe these days, but this area was once a thriving cattle ranching area. The land isn't much good for farming, but is decent pasture land. Even if it didn't become a national park, changes in the economics of ranching made it lose its viability as ranchland. There are still a few buildings left from that era, including one of the first two-story homes built in 1911. It's used for storage these days.

This home was built in the late 1800s and used well into the 20th century, complete with dirt floor and open windows.

These days the only residents are these little fellows.

On our way home we passed a Bison ranch, so I was able to get some great close-up shots without getting gored, since there was a stout fence between us. They look peaceful, but they keep warning you that those suckers are big and unpredictable.

Our trip involved crossing the Great Divide a total of six times, made us feel like intrepid explorers even if we were in an air- conditioned vehicle.


Friday we tried to see some of the side roads we missed last year, and boy were there some great sights to see, including four geysers erupting. Last year we were thrilled to see two in one day. We took the Firehole Lake Drive and warmed up (pardon the pun) with a couple of very hot puddles before reaching the Great Fountain Geyser at a little after four o'clock. .

We found out it hadn't erupted yet and according to the sign we were just in time, so we sat around and waited.

Out came the cell phone and we played a couple of games of Spider Solitaire and took a few pictures.

Nothing happened, so we went on to the next geyser just in time to turn around and get some great shots when the Fountain Geyser fountained.

When the show was over we continued to Firehole Lake (actually it's three connected lakes, but who's counting?) As is typical of hot springs there was a distinct odor of sulfur in the air, but it is a beautiful area. The brightly colored bacterial mats are brilliant.

Firehole Lake had our second erupting geyser, but we can't claim any credit for our timing to see the eruption. As the name 'Steady Geyser' might suggest, the thing erupts continuously, but we still got to count it in our total for the day.

At last we come to Old Faithful. You can't visit Yellowstone without seeing Old Faithful, and this time we were early enough to see it shoot off. While we were waiting, I found another anonymous cute kid to add to my collection.

We got to pet some fur from various animals in the park with one of the rangers (all from car-animal collisions) while we waited and then thar she blows!

Geyser number three on the count, not much chance of any more happening, so we adjourned to the visitor's center for a film. We had just settled into our seats when the PA announced that the Beehive geyser was about to erupt.

Hot dog! The Steam Gods were smiling on us. As you can see from the picture, the spout has a passing resemblance to a beehive, thus the name. Apparently the little jet next to the beehive spouts about fifteen minutes before the main attraction, so we had enough warning to be there for the show.

Four geysers in one day. Not bad at all!

On our way home we stopped at the Grand Prismatic Spring. The pool wasn't at it's best that day, so I swiped the first image off the net.

The birds didn't seem to care about the colors as they waded in the spring, but there was plenty of color in the area.

As the sun was going down we stopped by Virginia Falls, accessible on a very small one lane gravel road with some unprotected cliffs awful close for comfort. Some people will do anything for a shot of another waterfall.


The next day we took the road from the North entrance to the Northeast entrance, one of the best for seeing wildlife. We laughed as several young elk cavorted among a herd of buffalo, saw some wolves through a spotting scope (you couldn't see them with the unaided eye), passed an animal jam watching a grizzly bear and otherwise had a fine time.

We also stopped by Undine and Wraith falls, where we found this little critter.


We had one more day to visit the park, but since I had screwed up in making our reservations at the campground we had to move the RV to the Mammoth Springs Campground in the park. They don't have electricity or sewers, but for one night it's no problem. We took the last day easy, going to a couple of ranger talks but otherwise just hanging out and enjoying a day of rest. We topped it off with this gorgeous sunset in the campground.


As I read back over the last few blogs, it appears I've become a travelogue writer; nothing horrible or funny has happened to us in a while. It makes for a much more relaxing life, but a not so interesting blog. I tell myself that ten years from now when I can't remember anything I can read the blog and know what I was doing when I had all my marbles.

Well, that changed on our way to Oregon. Somewhere between Yellowstone and Missoula Montana we blew a tire on the RV. Unlike the tire we blew on our first trip in the RV I knew it happened immediately as the wheel was jerked out of my hands as I drove along the Interstate. A look in the side view mirror showed a cloud of debris flying away across the road. Pulling over on the grassy verge we examined the damage and found that the same tire had blown.

The first time this happened the steel belts tore up the trailer pretty badly, resulting in a $2,300 repair bill. Last spring, when we broke the springs on the RV, we tore up the same place on the RV a second time and I had to replace the plastic and insulation protecting the underside. This time we tore out the underside and tore up the body once more. This is getting to be a recurring nightmare.

The jack is located behind the rear seats in the pickup, but to get to it requires removing two backpacks, two walking sticks, two umbrellas, several maps, one camera tripod, the tow chain and a 12V air compressor. This leaves you with a substantial pile of junk before you unscrew the jack.

It was a 90 degree day, so having unearthed the jack, I had to crawl under the RV on asphalt hot enough to fry the proverbial egg and crank up eight tons of RV. Then I had to crawl under the other side of the RV (this side was cool grass. Hurrah!) to drop the spare tire, remove the remains of the tire - not an easy job, the nuts didn't want to come loose even with a breaker bar - and install the new one. All the while Judy was standing over me with one of those umbrellas so I wasn't in the direct sun. I suppose we provided a bit of a show for the people passing - I'm glad someone got some enjoyment from our predicament.

As we returned to the pickup to hear our Psychic Stereo playing Annie and the Hedonist's You're a Good Old Wagon, Daddy But your Done Broke Down. Laughter is a good thing, especially when you're drenched in sweat and covered in black tire goop.

When we arrived in Missoula we found a Firestone on our way to the campground, so it was easy to drop off the shredded tire to be replaced, but we found out that since Firestone was unable to mount the tires (we took them to the RV place and had them do it) we had not gotten the breakdown protection and had to buy a new tire. Those suckers are $156 each - ouch. RV living is not cheap, but it's less than owning a house in the long run.

We made it to Oregon without any more hassle than some pretty string crosswinds along the Columbia Valley and settled down for a month visiting our son And attending our daughter-in-law's college graduation.

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